Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The New Cabinet: Less Electioneering, More Professionalism

The New Cabinet: Less Electioneering, More Professionalism
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
September 8, 2009

The pundits on TV were talking up a storm. They were blasting Premier Liu for reshuffling the cabinet without tendering his own resignation. But even as they spoke, the news ticker on screen read: "Premier Liu's resignation accepted." The pundits were left picking their jaws off the floor. All they could do was grudging concede that Liu Chao-shiuan was one hell of a character.
As it is in life, so it is in politics. It is only after one loses something that one suddenly realizes it wasn't that bad after all. But by then it is too late. An administrative team's professionalism was simply no match for politics, electioneering, and the accumulated grievances felt by victims of a major disaster. The Liu cabinet was referred to as the Cabinet of Professors. Most of them were veteran bureaucrats. They were experts who understood everything. The only thing they didn't understand was the public mood. But they also had the pride of professional bureaucrats. They knew when to fold, and they knew the image they would leave behind.

Premier Liu offered President Ma his verbal resignation soon after the 8/8 Flood provoked widespread public discontent. Premier Liu was urged to stay on to facilitate the first month of post-disaster relief and reconstruction. Over the past three weeks Premier Liu was subjected to considerable name-calling. But he said nothing. He and the majority of ministry chiefs had already decided to leave, and quietly played the game out to the bitter end. Their concern was to avoid additional speculation or rumor-mongering that would negatively impact a cabinet already battered after the disaster.

Times have clearly changed. During the Chiang Ching-kuo era and early Lee Teng-hui era, bureaucrats with financial, scientific, and technological backgrounds exhibited professionalism and dedication. But they were never subjected to baptism by electoral fire. They felt they were running the country and saving the world. The public, on the other hand, felt they were acting high and mighty. They were reluctant to embrace the masses with open arms. They lacked the appropriate bedside manner. In the end, they could only resign and exit the political arena.

But over the past 15 months, this cabinet, consisting of financial and economic experts, actually got many things right. It implemented cross-Strait direct flights, it deregulated the economy, it participated in the WTO "Agreement on Government Procurement" and the WHO General Assembly. It upgraded several counties and municipalities. It helped Taiwan navigate the global financial storm. Wherever it went, it left its mark. The Liu cabinet neglected politics and electioneering. During its short term, it took us back to an era before politics and electioneering. Instead, it got things done. Fifteen months is too short a time. But natural disasters are not something mere mortals can control. When a natural disaster strikes, and one's performance falls short of public expectations, one need have no regrets about deciding to leave.

Premier Liu's resignation was approved. At the same time, the Presidential Office announced that Wu Den-yih would assume the premiership, and Taoyuan County Executive Chu Li-lun the vice premiership. The two would be responsible for reshuffling the cabinet. They were quite different in background from the Liu cabinet. Both were elected. Both were politically seasoned. Both were exceptionally strong campaigners. Put simply, the Liu cabinet was politically tone-deaf. This weakness has been remedied in spades by the appointment of Wu and Chu. But their very strengths may be their Achilles Heels.

Wu Den-yih is a provincial elite deliberately cultivated during the Chiang Ching-kuo era. He was among the first to rise in the political arena. He has vast experience. One of the reasons he lost the Kaohsiung mayoral election was the sex scandal tapes, later proven bogus. But another reason was his local political roots were too shallow. A change in ruling parties soon followed. Wu Den-yih lost the opportunity to gain experience at the central government level. Most people's impression of him is that he can put up a good fight come election time. But how far-sighted are his policies? No one knows. Chu Li-lun is a member of the KMT's emerging middle-aged elite. He harks from a political dynasty. This has allowed him to rise quickly with the political arena. But apart from bringing investments to Taoyuan, his financial and economic resume while legislator and county executive was nothing special. Taiwan is undergoing an economic transformation. Can Wu and Chu break out of their political framework, and lead Taiwan down a different developmental path? That will be their greatest test.

The cabinet resignation has yet to be confirmed. Taiwan has just survived the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan. This crisis was the result of an invitation given the Dalai Lama by a Democratic Progressive Party local leader. But it was also approved by a secret session of high-level KMT officials. Party and government leaders attended the meeting. They strenuously championed the Dalai Lama's visit. Wu Den-yih was one of the key players. Wu Den-yih's political calculus was that the DPP had thrown Ma Ying-jeou a hot potato, and that the KMT ought to throw it back. The KMT won this round. But cross-Strait mutual trust were put to a severe test. High-level administration officials have let out a sigh of relief. Cross-Strait relations, they have concluded, successfully negotiated some dangerous rapids. But the Dalai Lama demurred. Whether cross-Strait relations have changed will only be known six months to a year from now. The Wu and Chu cabinet is a cabinet long on electioneering experience. Can it successfully continue the Liu cabinet's cross-Strait policy? Beijing will be watching. Wu and Chu must remain vigilant.

Wu Den-yih and Chu Li-lun have taken on some heavy administrative duties. They need to realize that the burden on their shoulders far exceeds anything in their past political experience. Post-disaster reconstruction for the 8/8 Flood has begun. They will have to implement the Liu cabinet's plans for disaster prevention and reconstruction. Electoral victories must not be their sole indicator of policy failure or success. On the contrary. They must demonstrate a sense of vision the public has not seen in the past. The rebuilding of cross-Strait mutual trust must begin now. Electioneering concerns must not override national interests. Political barriers must not impede sound administration. Wu and Chu must remember they are not the KMT's administrative team. They are the ROC's administrative team.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.09.08
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